Robert Tiemstra ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
“When crooks become more popular than cops, that’s anarchy.”
It says a lot about the last season of Gotham that we still cannot accurately describe the tone of the series without doing an absurd amount of verbal contortions. Sure, everyone can agree it is a crime drama set in Gotham City, but that is a genre, not a tone. Over the last season we have gotten episodes that feel like pulpy detective comics, haunting character pieces, surreal horror shows, all exemplified through subtle affectations that rarely change the format of the show enough to make it seem like an intentional conceit. This is not an anthology, as proven through the recurring characters and halfhearted attempts at overarching plot, but this is also not a remarkably consistent show. The writers bumble around in their titular city looking for good stuff to throw into an episode, which they then promptly do, without having any clue about how it will eventually cohere into a consistent tone.
This is the only way one can explain an episode like “Red Hood.” This is an episode filled with good ideas, or at least ideas with potential, that completely ignores any connecting theme between the three in favor of throwing them all on screen under the title of the most iconic plot (“iconic” is such an overused word in these spheres, isn’t it? But then again, it is probably the word the studio used when approving this title, so we won’t choose a different one) of the three or four that present themselves. We’ve written about how the past few episodes have had difficulty reconciling their central plots with their core, and “Red Hood” seems to think that the simplest way to solve this issue is to do away with any pretense of a spine and have all the plots fight it out and see which one winds up victorious.
The titular plot involves a gang of comically arrogant “mooks with shotguns” who rob banks in ski masks. One of the younger and most obnoxious of the group dons a red mask and takes over as a de-facto vigilante, prompting what is perhaps the most bizzare yet curiously effective deconstruction of the superhero myth this series has to offer. There is no misguided nobility or bloody vengeance to inspire this crusade, just a bunch of ordinary robbers who let their egos get the better of them. As Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) track them down, they fight amongst themselves for who gets to be “the Red Hood”. Gotham is reliably simplistic in its criminal procedure, and this is no exception. Perhaps Judge Dredd director Danny Cannon realized when writing this script that he should play to this show’s strengths and not try to keep up the pretense of being the comic book equivalent of Criminal Minds.
The strongest of the plot lines vying for attention in this mess is centered, refreshingly enough, on Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) having an encounter with an old friend from Alfred’s SAS days (David O’Hara). This man has the fantastic name Reginald Payne, which may have been all the SAS needed to see before hiring him, and he stays over at the Wayne Manor, causing bottled up stress on the part of a certain Butler with a dark past. The Bruce/Alfred dynamic has always been the most interesting (not to mention, consistent) part of Gotham, because it actually branches off and explores the relationship between a rich orphan and his Butler as more than just a master/wise servant one. Alfred has taken over the mantle of Bruce’s parents, and this episode pointedly reminds us just how hard it is on this stiff former army man. Alfred’s backstory isn’t explored in depth in this episode, and it doesn’t need to be – a few war stories here and there are effective enough in conveying the world Alfred wants to keep Bruce away from, which is the same world Bruce wants to know more about. In some ways, Reggie is a dark mirror to Alfred – a man who would make Bruce transform into a hardened soldier rather than a morally charged avenger of the night.
Full disclosure here, it was rather difficult to take notes from about two-thirds of the way through this episode because of a particularly ghoulish development in Fish Mooney’s plot line. For the last few episodes, Jada Pinkett Smith has been playing with fire by using her fellow prisoners as both friends and hostages in order to negotiate control of their basement-prison. Here’s a question for the writers: If the “doctor” who controls this facility really wants to use the body parts of the prisoners, wouldn’t it be beneficial to keep the prisoners in a somewhat sterile environment? And yet it seems this building (a haunting menagerie of surgical horrors already) is five parts medical facility, one part medieval dungeon. Fish Mooney negotiates her way into the headmaster’s office, and here is where her final piece of negotiation takes place. Afterwards, one can either write a scene like this off as shock value, or commend it for taking a risk with both the character and style of the show. It comes back to the tonal problem – seeing a character viciously mutilate themselves is horrifying in any context, but does it smack of trying to hard on the part of the writers? The jury is out at the moment on that question, but it is impossible to deny that the scene in question is, for lack of a better term, hard on the eyes.
After the aforementioned “Elle Driver by way of Jigsaw” scene, we are also treated to another few gut punches that do not hit as hard because of their proximity to the most gruesome event in the whole series. A few revelations related to Reggie are unsurprising, but for a fleeting moment they make it seem like the series may take some risks in terms of what characters are actually in danger. This is the closest Gotham has come so far to taking actual risk, and it makes the last half of this episode read as much more thrilling than anything the show has to offer so far on the plot-level. But you can’t have a handful of good scenes in a row and call it a great episode. That would be like winning a staring contest by using a pair of eyeballs on a plate.
Overall Episode Grade: B